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With: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Brian Cox, Julia Stiles, Karl Urban, Gabriel Mann, Joan Allen
Written by: Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum
Directed by: Paul Greengrass
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and intense action, and brief language
Running Time: 109
Date: 07/15/2004

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bourne Again

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Here's an example of how switching directors mid-series can make a huge difference. The talented, atmospheric director Alfonso Cuaron took over from bland Chris Columbus on the third Harry Potter film and suddenly breathed life back into the series. Now Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday) has replaced Doug Liman (Go, Swingers) on the Bourne films, and the result is not necessarily better, but different.

Liman's The Bourne Identity (2002) was a superior thriller with all kinds of juicy, colorful elements, supporting personalities and a budding love story. Greengrass' new The Bourne Supremacy is more like his previous film, Bloody Sunday. It's like being in the center of a riot, complete chaos with no hope for rest or release.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) and his newfound love, Marie (Franka Potente), have criss-crossed the world attempting to hide from the CIA, which wants him under control or dead. Now living in India, Bourne tries to cope with his recurring nightmares, fragments of his lost memory.

But an enemy assassin (Karl Urban) suddenly shows up and everything changes. Bourne is forced to come back out of hiding, alone. Apparently, two murders in Berlin have been pinned on him and he must attempt to clear his name. But at the same time, some of his newly rekindled memories also involve Berlin.

Agent Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) is now in charge of the case. She rounds up all the surviving members of Bourne's now-defunct unit, Treadstone: Ward Abbott (Brian Cox), Nicky (Julia Stiles) and Danny Zorn (Gabriel Mann).

This much leaner tale has Bourne by himself, moving quicker and thinking faster. Damon has very little dialogue in the role, and does marvelous things with his eyes and body, constantly thinking and calculating, looking and watching. He builds up tension without the use of speeches.

Even with its ancient "amnesia" storytelling technique, The Bourne Identity offered a compelling mystery about a man very simply trying to figure out what happened. The Bourne Supremacy is simpler, but not quite as engaging. The characters don't seem quite as linked here, and the film emphasizes the disturbing psychological disconnect involved with such harrowing government work.

The new story also turns on a "surprise" villain responsible for pinning the two murders on Bourne. Once that surprise is revealed at the film's halfway point, there's nothing left but chases.

Fortunately, Greengrass really gets into the chase scenes. Yes, the camera shakes a lot and it's hard to see what's going on, but this film does not present its chase scenes as beauty or art; they are about chaos and lack of control. Most likely the participants in these chase scenes wouldn't be able to see everything either. Greengrass almost literally puts us in the path of a juggernaut. Bourne's relentless thinking constantly keeps him just a half-step ahead of his pursuers; it's exhausting but thrilling at the same time.

Yet it's the "exhausting" part that comes back to me now. When I watch The Bourne Identity, it recharges me, while The Bourne Supremacy wore me down. I like this series and believe it could eventually turn into a kind of junior James Bond, but perhaps more emphasis should be put on thinking and calculating and less on the gut-punches.

DVD Details: When The Bourne Supremacy arrived on home video, I found I had little desire to see it again. Universal's DVD comes with an "Anatomy of a Scene" special and deleted scenes as well as a handful of featurettes on fight training, explosions, casting and other behind-the-scenes aspects.

Blu-Ray Details: In 2010, Universal released the entire Bourne trilogy in DVD/Blu-Ray hybrid editions, with the Blu-Ray on one side of the disc, and the DVD on the other (impressive feat, that). The Blu-Rays are equipped with "BD Live" extras, which you can access if your player is internet-ready (mine isn't just yet). Otherwise, we get a commentary track with director Greengrass, and an impressive array of deleted/alternate scenes, featurettes and interviews. The picture and sound are phenomenal.

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